Dear Mr Pursglove,
I wrote to you on 15 September 2020 about three matters of trust. Having received your reply to the last of these three matters recently I’d just like to share my thoughts with you, please.
The first matter was that lots of Conservative MPs claimed, in a standard letter sent to hundreds of people, to have spoken to ‘the minister’ about our concerns over the conservation of Hen Harriers. This claim, in a standard letter, did not look convincing, it looked like a bold lie to many of us. Whilst I must fully accept your response to me that in a chance encounter with the minister you brought up my concerns I do find it impossible to believe that all your colleagues who sent out the same letter were equally assiduous, remembered anything much about their constituents’ concerns and did as good a job as I am sure you did. DEFRA was unable to confirm that any such conversations took place, which doesn’t add any credence to these tales. On this first matter of trust, I have to say that my trust in MPs has been diminished by this episode.
The second matter was about a long-standing promise by DEFRA to regulate the burning of vegetation in peatlands, which was supposed to happen in 2020 – but it did not. We have now seen the regulations and they are not only late but fell far short of what is needed – they are more loophole than environmental protection. Most governments promise more than they deliver but this Conservative government over nearly 11 years has turned this into a way of life, a tactic, a commonplace. This reduces my trust in the government another notch.
The third matter was the answer by Rebecca Pow to a planted parliamentary question about the RSPB and Hen Harriers. Although I wrote to you in September 2020 DEFRA has only recently furnished you with a reply, and I am grateful to you for passing it on to me. Your covering letter describes the reply as a ‘substantive response’ which is what you say about all responses and is not always deserved – it’s not deserved in this case. I can only describe Ms Pow’s response as an admission which admits nothing. In her letter she writes ‘Whilst the RSPB does not have management control on all the land on which it undertakes nest monitoring…’ and I comment on my blog about this ‘This is an admission that the RSPB doesn’t have ‘primary control of access’ on 10 sites, only on its own land at Geltsdale. It doesn’t sound like an admission does it? But that’s what it is. And it doesn’t say ‘Sorry’ does it, though it ought to? What the minister said to parliament last September she is unsaying in these long-delayed letters. She hasn’t corrected things in parliament. And the truth would not have emerged in public were it not for letters from myself and readers of this blog which have now received answers months later It’s not the most important thing in the world but it’s a sordid and disreputable little case study.’. Now, I don’t know how Ms Pow came to give an incorrect answer to Parliament. Ministers don’t write their own answers, that’s what they have a department to do for them, but the buck stops with them. Whereas Ms Pow was right not to have dumped the blame on Natural England, or civil servants, she ought properly to have corrected the error and said ‘sorry’. That she didn’t is her fault. That she didn’t is another reason for my trust in politicians of your party and your government to be ebbing away at a rapid rate.
So, from that letter, of the three matters raised, all of them have led to me believing your colleagues less and trusting them less. And the experience of many of us is the same, I believe.
And that is an underlying reason why a group of over 50 environmental organisations, including Wild Justice whose registered office is in my home, in your constituency, have written to the Prime Minister asking for an amendment to the much delayed (another promise broken) Environment Bill which will make restoring nature a legal imperative. We no longer trust the words from DEFRA or the Prime Minister – we want commitments to be in writing, clear, and such that this government and future governments cannot ditch them with no apology and not even admitting their failure. We started a petiton on this matter yesterday – click here.
There is no need for you to reply to this letter but I do hope you read it and think about it. Maybe one day you will hold a senior ministerial post – would you want the world to assume that you were lying each time you promised anything? Trust of governments, as of individuals, has to be earned.